Wimbledon reduced to an exhibition but with an intact luster

Temple of tradition and propriety, Wimbledon is not really known to be the most turbulent of the four Grand Slam rounds. This year, it could be different on the outskirts of the neat All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, in the south-west suburbs of London. Even before the event took place (June 27 to July 10), its members sparked a controversy that will go down in the history books.

Following the advice of the British government, they decided to exclude Russians and Belarusians individually, in response to the invasion of Ukraine by Moscow, with the help of Minsk, at the end of February. “Under the circumstances of unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefit from the participation of Russian or Belarusian players,” justified the organizers on April 20, taking the opposite view of the three other Grand Slam tournaments, where they are authorized to participate under a neutral banner.

Fifteen of them in the top 100 – seven female players and four Russian players; three players and one player from Belarus – will therefore be absent in London, starting with the world number one, Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev (8e), Karen Khachanov (22e) as well as their compatriots Daria Kasatkina (13e) and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (83e). Belarusians Aryna Sabalenka (6e) and Victoria Azarenka (20e) are also missing.

To defend her chances there, the Russian Natela Dzalamidze, 43e world doubles, changed nationality, revealed on June 18 the British daily The Times. The 29-year-old is now Georgian.

“Fundamental” principle of fairness called into question

The political decision of the All England Club satisfies a handful of Ukrainian players. But if it is supported by the tennis federations of Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland, it is far from unanimous. In retaliation, the ATP, which manages the men’s professional circuit, and the WTA, its counterpart for the women’s circuit, have decreed that they will not distribute any points this year at the London Grand Slam. For both authorities, it is the principle ” fundamental “ of fairness that is called into question: the possibility for all to participate in all tournaments “on their merit and without discrimination”.

Read also: Tennis: Russians and Belarusians will be able to participate in the US Open under a neutral flag

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) followed suit by depriving junior and wheelchair tennis tournaments of points. “The ITF position remains that Russian and Belarusian players should be allowed to participate as neutral athletes”justified the federation, which has also banned since 1er March to both countries to participate in any international team competition.

Wimbledon is therefore reduced to a “simple” gala competition. At Roland-Garros, at the end of May, the hot topic sprang up almost at every press conference. Naomi Osaka is the only headliner to have hinted in Paris that she would not tread the sacred turf. “I feel like if I play Wimbledon without a point, it’s more like an exhibition”had dropped the Japanese, evoking, in an involuntary pun, a tournament “pointless” (which means both “without a dot” and ” useless “). The former world number one formalized her package on June 18, citing a persistent Achilles heel injury.

The retaliatory measure of the ATP and the WTA will have cascading consequences on the rankings of the best players, who will lose their points from last year and will not be able to score new ones. Finalist of the 2021 edition, the Italian Matteo Berrettini will come out of the top 20, even if he lifts the trophy on July 10. “Knowing that winning three tournaments in a row including a Grand Slam will not be enough to prevent you from falling from the 10e to beyond the 20e instead, it’s ugly. It is unfair and not frankly correct”, protested the recent winner of the Stuttgart and Queen’s tournaments on June 17 in The magazine team.

Benoît Paire will go “take his check”

The defending champion, Novak Djokovic, will lose the 2,000 points awarded to the Wimbledon winner, who had already banned German and Japanese players for several years after the Second World War. The Serb sees it as a ” mistake “ the exclusion of Russians and Belarusians. But he never considered skipping the tournament: “Grand Slam tournaments remain Grand Slam tournamentssynthesizes the world No. 2, and Wimbledon was always a dream for me as a kid. I don’t see it through the prism of points or prize money [les primes]. »

The world number one, Iga Swiatek, also comes here to seek prestige: “At the Olympics, we play for medals [et non des points] and it is still very important. Whoever wins Wimbledon will always have that on his list.”insists the Polish, who has never passed the round of 16 there.

The most modest players on the circuit can hardly do without the bonuses distributed in London: “From a financial point of view, we players who go through the “qualifiers”, we have to go there. It’s not with the 400 euros in the first round of the Challengers [la deuxième division du circuit] that we pay for our season”, summarized at Roland-Garros the French Grégoire Barrère, 185e global. Faithful to his unfiltered talkativeness, his compatriot Benoît Paire does not bother with his ranking (76e): “I find it difficult to understand the thing, if the ATP rather defends the players or defends Russia. Me, I’ll go there to get my check anyway! »

Way to attract the undecided or simple coincidence? This year, the organizers will offer a record amount of more than 40 million pounds (46.3 million euros). That is an increase of 15% compared to 2021, when the capacity for the reception of the public had been reduced due to the Covid-19, and of 6% compared to the last tournament played without gauge, in 2019.

Read also At Wimbledon, we do not joke with “The Queue”

On social networks, some did not hesitate to qualify Wimbledon as “biggest exhibition tournament in the world”. “Shocking”in the eyes of Sir Andy Murray, who immediately flew to the aid of the national jewel, where he was crowned in 2013 and 2016. “I bet most of the Center Court spectators won’t know or care how many points a player gets for a third round win, wrote the Briton on Twitter. But I guarantee they’ll remember who came out on top. Wimbledon will never be an exhibition and will never look like an exhibition. End of the discussion. »

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